UN debate

The United Nations is the main international organization responsible for promoting world peace. It has played a vital role in preventing the use of nuclear weapons, yet few people really understand how it works. How much do you know? This activity requires you to represent the views of a particular country. There are currently 193 UN members – almost every nation in the world – and each has one vote in the main body within the United Nations, known as the General Assembly.

The very first resolution of the General Assembly called for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. Another major body is the Security Council, which meets at any time to debate matters of international security. Its decisions, unlike the decisions of the General Assembly, are enforceable. This activity will teach you the fine art of diplomacy. You will learn about how the United Nations operates and how different countries perceive the nuclear threat.


  • Decide which countries should participate in the debate.
  • Allocate each participant a country to represent.
  • The President should open proceedings and invite any nation to propose a resolution.
  • A delegate should introduce a resolution and read it aloud to the General Assembly.
  • The President should then invite a delegate from another country to second the proposal.
  • All delegates should notify the President if they wish to speak for or against it.
  • The secretary should produce a list of speakers, alternating between “for” and “against”.
  • The first speaker should be from the delegation that proposed the resolution.
  • The timekeeper should ring a bell after a certain time for each speaker, e.g. three minutes.
  • At any stage, a delegation can introduce an amendment to the resolution.
  • Any amendment should be debated and voted upon.
  • The resolution itself should also be voted upon – you can say “for”, “against” or “abstain”.
  • The resolution succeeds if there are more countries voting “for” than “against”.
  • It is customary to applaud if a resolution succeeds but not if it fails.
  • The President should close proceedings or invite another resolution.


  • President of the General Assembly – to oversee proceedings and make rulings
  • A secretary – to maintain the list of speakers
  • A timekeeper – to limit the length of time any delegate has to speak
  • Note-passers – to pass official notes between delegates and to the President
  • Delegates – to represent their respective countries



Delegates should represent the views of their particular country. If you don’t know much about the policies of the country you’re required to represent, do some research. Find out whether it supports the elimination of nuclear weapons and measures to prevent nuclear proliferation. A useful website is www.reachingcriticalwill.org, which publishes nuclear disarmament speeches made at the United Nations.


Sample resolution

Follow-up to the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons

The General Assembly,

Convinced that the continuing existence of nuclear weapons poses a threat to all humanity and that their use would have catastrophic consequences for all life on Earth,

Reaffirming the commitment of the international community to the goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free world,

Emphasizing the unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament,

Desiring to achieve the objective of a legally binding prohibition of the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, threat or use of nuclear weapons and their destruction under effective international control,

Recalling the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, issued on 8 July 1996,

  1. Underlines the unanimous conclusion of the International Court of Justice that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control;
  2. Calls upon all States immediately to fulfil that obligation by commencing multilateral negotiations leading to an early conclusion of a nuclear weapons convention prohibiting the development, production, testing, deployment, stockpiling, transfer, threat or use of nuclear weapons and providing for their elimination;
  3. Decides to include in the provisional agenda of its next session the item entitled “Follow-up to the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons”.

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